WASHINGTON - An independent privacy review board on Wednesday defended the National Security Agency's vast foreign intelligence data sweep efforts, despite objections from civil liberties activists.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, formally adopted a report which called the NSA's overseas surveillance a valuable and legal tool in thwarting terrorism.
The report, which was released to news media on Tuesday before the unanimous vote, came in sharp contrast to the same panel's rebuke of domestic surveillance efforts earlier this year.
The NSA's foreign surveillance "is not a bulk collection programme. Instead the programme only targets communications of particular persons," said PCLOB chairman David Medine.
"It is not a widespread collection of information other than (for) those who were targeted based on the belief that they're non-US persons outside of the United States with foreign intelligence value."
Board member James Dempsey agreed with those remarks while saying the NSA "needs to do a better job of articulating" why certain people are targeted.
The report said NSA foreign intelligence efforts are generally in line with the US constitution, while raising some concerns about unintentional data gathering of Americans.
The report appears to vindicate at least some aspects of the vast NSA data sweep, while sidestepping questions on whether privacy protections of US law should be extended to "non-US persons."
The panel was largely supportive of the NSA's handling of the programmes authorised by Section 702 or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the opposite of its conclusion in January of the huge telephone metadata collection effort by the intelligence agency.
This effort has enabled the government "to identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States and other countries," it added.